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New data finds Italian Americans prospering today

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Did you know that the median household income of Italian-American households exceeds that of the average U.S. household income by nearly $16,000 annually? Were you aware that the percentage of Italian Americans who have attained a college or professional degree is greater than the percentage of those in the U.S. population who have attained those same degrees? Have you realized that the percentage of Italian-American households living below the poverty level is significantly less than the percentage of all U.S. households living below the poverty level?

We can make these determinations thanks to a large survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Community Survey, which collects information on about 40 social, economic, demographic and housing characteristics for each household and the people that reside in them. During the 2017-2021 collection phase, actual interviews were conducted at about 9.7 million randomly selected households. This resulted in an approximate sample of 25 million people. The data collected is considered a reliable reflection of the nation as a whole, and it can be used to identify differences in the estimates between the Italian-American population and the overall U.S. population.

Compared to the general U.S. population, Italian Americans are …
• More likely to be married or cohabitating.
• More likely to have a computer in the household.
• More likely to be found in these occupations: Management, business, science, art, finance, insurance and real estate.
• Less likely to identify as having a disability.
• Less likely to live in a household that receives SNAP benefits (food stamps)

One of the questions that the survey asks each person is “What is your ancestry or ethnic origin?” The Census Bureau defines ancestry as a person’s ethnic origin or descent, “roots,” or heritage, or the place of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. Close to 6 million Americans report “Italian” as their only ancestry. Additionally an estimated 10.2 million report “Italian” as part of their heritage. In total then, about 16 million Americans identify as either all or part Italian. It is from this ancestry question that we can identify, isolate and gather statistics on Italian Americans.

Putting the data in context
Upon immigration to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italians brought with them a unique culture, far different from the American culture at the time. In addition to language, their attitudes and experiences toward education, employment, and family all differed from mainstream America. Economically, they were more likely to be poor and the scant employment skills that they carried with them were often not applicable to the needs of the new world.

Recent data shows that despite more than 100 years of living in the United States, there are still significant variations when comparing the Italian-American population to the population of the nation as a whole. These variations though, are found in categories that differ from early 20th century variations. Differences in living arrangements, occupation, labor force participation and demographic characteristics all exist. Comparisons in educational attainment, median household income, home values and English language competency all reveal differences. In many economic categories, Italian Americans have not only achieved parity, they have exceeded it.

 

Italian-American demographics, financial and social situations, by the numbers

Italian-American

population

Entire  U.S.

population

 

Difference

Married couple households 49.30% 47.80% 1.5%
Cohabitating couple households 8.10% 6.70% 1.4%
Householder living alone 13.20% 12.70% 0.5%
Female head of household, no spouse/partner present 24.60% 27.40% -2.8%
Ages 15 and older, female, widowed 7.40% 8.40% -1.0%
Ages 15 and older, female, now married 47.3% 46.4% +0.9%
Ages 25 and older, less than ninth grade 1.3% 4.80% -3.5%
Ages 25 and older, high school or beyond 95.20% 88.90% 6.3%
Ages 25 and older, bachelor’s degree or higher 42.70% 33.70% 9.0%
Ages 25 and older, graduate or professional degree 16.70% 13.1% 3.6%
Noninstitutionalized, with a disability 11.40% 12.60% -1.2%
Ages 65 and older, with a disability 28.90% 33.40% -4.5%
Foreign born 3.5% 13.6% -10.1%
Ages 5 and older, English only spoken at home 93.40% 78.30% 15.1%
Ages 5 and older, speak English less than “very well” 1.50% 8.20% -6.7%
Household with computer 95.50% 93.10% 2.4%
Ages 16 and older, in the labor force 67.7% 63.6% 4.1%
Females ages 16 and older, in the labor force 64.0% 58.8%  5.2%
All parents in labor force, w/child younger than 6 73.4% 66.9% 6.5%
Management/business/science/art occupations 48.3% 40.3% 8.0%
Service occupations 14.4% 17.0% -2.6%
Production/transportation/moving occupations 8.3% 13.1% -4.8%
Finance/insurance/real estate industries 8.3% 6.7% 1.6%
National resources/construction/maintenance 6.7% 8.7% -2.0%
Household income and benefits, $200,000 or more 13.7% 9.5% 4.2%
Median household income* $90,487 $74,755 $15,732
Households receiving food stamps, past 12 months 7.1% 11.4% -4.3%
Home value $500,000 to $999,999 18.9 13.6% 5.3%
Home value $1 million and greater 4.8 4.1 0.7%
Have health insurance coverage 95.6% 91.2% 4.4%
Monthly owner cost  w/mortgage  – $3,000 or more 20.7% 14.8% 5.9%
People living below poverty level, past 12 months 7.7% 12.6% -4.9%
Younger than 18, below poverty level, past 12 months 7.9% 17% -9.1%
65 and older, below poverty level, past 12 months 7.0% 9.6% -2.6%
Live in owner-occupied housing 70.3% 64.6% 5.7%
Live in renter-occupied homes 29.7% 35.4% -5.7%
Live in household with no vehicle available 6.4% 8.3% -1.9%
Median age 40.1 39  +1.1
Persons younger than 18 21% 22.5% 1.5%
Identify as one race* 92.6% 87.5% 5.1%
Identify as two races * 6.9% 11.8% -4.9%
Ages 65 and older, male 46.7% 44.9% 1.8%
Ages 65 and older, female 53.3% 55.1% -1.8%

Sources: American Community Survey, 2017-2021, 5 Year data, Tables DP-02 through DP-05. Starred data is from the American Community Survey, 2022, 1 Year data, Table S0201. Links to source tables available upon request at joequartullo@gmail.com

ABOUT THESE NUMBERS
This data sample, most of which was collected during the five-year period of 2017-2021, compared  Italian-American responses with those of the overall U.S. population. Although the gap between numbers may not initially appear to be sizable, each percentage point can represent hundreds of thousands or millions of people.  The table below reveals some interesting differences.

COMING SOON
An analysis of the Italian-American population as it has spread throughout the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, including nearby Pennsylvania counties, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.

Joe Quartullo

Joe Quartullo is a retired Data Dissemination Specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau. Originally from South Philadelphia, he lives in Deptford, N.J.

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